There is no future for our oceans without flourishing human communities. And there is no future for our coastal communities without flourishing oceans. This is the fundamental nature of a sustainable “blue” (ocean or water-based) economy, where we live both healthy human and non-human ecology together.
In 2019, the federal Liberal government committed to a challenging task of finding this balance to develop a strategy for Canada’s blue economy development. The Prime Minister directed his Minister of Fisheries and Oceans towards the following: “Working in close collaboration with provinces and territories, Indigenous communities and industry, you will also continue to prioritize the growth of Canada’s blue economy to create opportunities for freshwater and ocean sectors and coastal communities, recognizing that Canada’s blue economy must be supported by a world-leading conservation plan.”
The approach corresponds with the three legs of the stool model towards sustainable development: the legs being environmental, economic and social. All three legs must work together to support a harmonious unity. In the government’s commitment above, a conservation plan is the environmental leg; the “growth of Canada’s blue economy and opportunities” are the economic and social legs.
However, if one of the legs of this stool is too short, or broken, or badly built, the stool will not function and in fact with pressure will collapse. In this case, the builder of the stool has done a poor job and the outcome is not the desired long-term performance that results in an important harmony of parts.
We need this harmonious approach to the development of the Blue Economy Strategy for Canada. But after several years of various consultations, only one leg of the stool has been produced under this government. We have seen the government’s commitments to marine conservation, for example creating new marine parks, a large fund dedicated to the recovery of wild BC salmon, and announcements about Canada’s commitment to preserving 30% of marine areas by 2030. These are good and the government should be congratulated for them, but as only one leg they will be left tottering and could easily crash.
These commitments have not been balanced by the other legs of the stool: economic and social. Fishers have had licenses removed or disallowed for certain commercial fisheries, without consultation and seemingly without scientific evidence. Close to 40% of salmon farming production in British Columbia has been shut down, with the ongoing threat of shutting down further salmon farming under DFO Minister Joyce Murray.
Over the last 30 years, many of BC’s coastal and Indigenous communities have become deeply connected to modern, sustainable, in-ocean salmon farming. The highly regulated farms are now sophisticated operations that have made significant changes to become efficient and environmentally friendly in production. In 2022 the national salmon farming sector produced national environmental performance targets out to 2032. The coastal Nations involved in salmon farming are speaking up and being heard: salmon farming provides food, jobs, pride and irreplaceable own-source income to many rural and remote First Nations communities, providing social cohesion and economic independence.
This economic and social “ecosystem” of salmon farming in BC is a living organism with many parts: over one thousand distinct businesses – from marine and port infrastructure repair to feed, processing, engineering and transport – supply the sector, with thousands of people employed. Gutting the BC salmon farming sector as Minister Murray seems to intend – and without taking the time for fulsome consultation and social and economic impact analyses of the people and communities that would be harmed – will permanently disrupt and damage this carefully evolved coastal economic and social system.
The federal government has the opportunity to build the other legs of the blue economy stool. In collaboration with provinces and in keeping with its commitment to reconciliation with First Nations, it should also set economic and social targets by which it considers the full ecosystem of human and nature flourishing. It should not shut down viable economic activities such as salmon farming, especially when DFO’s own science evaluation and advice process provides clear direction that there is “minimal” impact from salmon farms on wild salmon. And it should not shut down modern, sustainable, in-ocean salmon farming in the territories of Nations who want it. The federal Blue Economy Strategy should seek to improve both its environmental and human performance.
The federal government still has an exciting opportunity before it: to launch a creative and visionary program for Canadians and their engagement with Canada’s oceans. With talented public servants looking to work on a strategy that could provide guidance and framework for decades, the energy and enthusiasm is there. Setting environmental, economic and social and reconciliation goals, while growing existing human ecosystems, is the path to the long-term success of Canada’s blue economy development.
Dallas Smith is a spokesperson for the Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship and a member of the Tlowitsis First Nation (BC)
Timothy Kennedy is President & CEO of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA)